“Three Kings Day” by Elena, Paris

Change July 14, 2011 00:31

topic: CHANGE medium: TEXT, AUDIO

This story was shared at a PenTales event themed “Royalty”

Listen to the Story!

I arrived at my grandmother’s on New Year’s Day to find books piled up in the bath, tin cans arranged in snaking lines on the kitchen floor and children’s toys decades old lined up in military formations in the living room. The girl who came in to do the housekeeping had tried to impose some kind of order, putting sticky labels saying ‘bookshelf’ on the bookshelf and ‘bath’ on the bath, but my grandmother refused to connect the signs to their generally agreed signifiers and carried on insisting the new bath was for storing books and washing herself under a pipe in the back yard. Everything to her had a system and an order, and if you tried to pack the cans away into the larder she’d fuss and purse her lips and say ‘I don’t know why ever I had children all they do is a make a mess’.
I had caught an eight hour bus from Mexico City to the dusty beach town where she lived planning to lie in the sun for a couple of weeks, eat home cooking and forget about a skinny indie boy from Liverpool who I’d caught in our bed with the girl who ran the launderette on the corner of our street. I hadn’t expected to find my grandma so confused and shrunken, sitting up in bed in a thick blue jumper when it was 30 degrees outside. ‘There are hairs growing out of my fingers!’ she shouted ‘I have to cut them off otherwise they’ll get infected’ she said, jabbing at her hands with her sewing scissors. ‘Don’t trust the nurses’ she said ‘They’re stealing all the silver spoons’ she whispered to me, and when they were out of the room she’d look furtively around her, and lifted up the corner of the mattress to reveal her secret treasure – dozens of spoons she’d hidden there, the good silver ones she’d had as a wedding present 60 years before but also the plastic ones the nurses gave her to eat yoghurt with. She thought I was my mum
– ‘Maria’ she kept saying, ‘You should stop seeing that Javier, I heard his dad drinks and his mother doesn’t go to church! I’ve only seen her at Mass once this year’. When I called Mum she vaguely remembered she might have gone to a dance with a Javier in about 1976, but we couldn’t work out why Grandma remembered him when she couldn’t remember anything else.

She moved backwards and forwards in time ‘I always knew that Richard Nixon was a scoundrel’ she’d say, or ‘I don’t know why Cardenas won’t send troops to Europe, Hitler’s everybody’s problem, he’ll be here next!’ and look around her like she fully expected him to be outside the window taking a dip in the Pacific.

She did remember what day of the year it was though – ‘I hope you’ve been good this year’ she said, ‘You must remember to leave your shoes out for the Three Kings. They’re coming on Friday to see the Baby Jesus. They’ll have
present for you and Juan and Antonio and Ruben’ listing her children both alive and dead. She went to the shops and the next door neighbor brought her home seven hours later, saying he’d found her wandering in circles around the town square warning the palm trees that the Three Kings only brought presents for good children. Her handbag was full of sugar coal, which she’d filled my shoe with one Three Kings Day as a punishment for drawing a crayon sun on the newly plastered kitchen wall. The doctor drove down from Acapulco and increased her medication. On the 4th of January she had a stroke – half her face froze into a horror film mask ‘Remember to write to the Three Kings, or you won’t get any presents’ she said dribblingly out of one side of her mouth
‘Watch out for the nurses, they’re stealing all the spoons’ . I walked along the beach trying to skip stones into the Pacific and under the coloured banners on the seafront welcoming the Kings and felt guilty about all the home-made
dresses and cross necklaces I’d found in my shoe in previous years and never worn. I left a flat brown shoe out on the veranda the next night, thinking that if Grandma wanted to live in my childhood, or somebody’s childhood, it would be churlish not to go along with her.
I was woken by a fragile scream early in the morning- Grandma had fallen out of bed and was lying contorted on the stone floor, stiff and shaking. ‘Don’t come near me!’ she shouted ‘I’ll tell your mother, you should be ashamed, trying to steal from an old woman!’. When the doctor came he sedated her and said her Alzheimer’s had gone too far for her be at home, and she had to go into hospital and then to a nursing home, so Three Kings Day was the last night she spent at home. But when I opened the screen door to let the doctor in, he almost tripped over something on the veranda- I bent down and saw it was my brown shoe, packed full with silver spoons.

1 Comment